Merced County Sheriff's deputies dismantled two houses in the Dos Palos area on Tuesday that were converted into large scale, illegal, commercial indoor marijuana operations.
A month-long investigation led deputies to a South Dos Palos home on Sixth Street where 1,900 marijuana plants and 10 pounds of finished high-quality marijuana was seized, Sgt. Ray Framstad said.
The marijuana was likely worth about $3,500 per pound, Framstad said.
Neighbors reported suspicious activity at the home, leading deputies to investigate it. While serving a search warrant, deputies found the entire home was converted to a commercial marijuana operation, deputies said. The operation included commercial air conditioning units and condensers, sub-paneling, air purifiers, carbon dioxide tanks, lighting, watering trays, a ventilation system and countless exposed electrical wires, Framstad said.
The exposed wiring and condenser tubes made it difficult -- and dangerous -- for deputies to process evidence, Framstad said. The rewiring and exposed water was a major fire hazard.
The people running the operation re-routed power to the home by diverting the electricity meter and rewiring the home, so much so that the front of the house had caught fire and wires were melted, Framstad said.
Deputies also located a shed in the back yard that was converted just like the home.
While deputies were processing evidence at the first home, deputies said, they believe the people running the operation were tipped off and removed an electrical bypass at a second home converted for an illegal operation.
Deputies later seized about 900 plants from the second home, on Brannon Avenue in Dos Palos, Framstad said. A portion of the home was converted into an indoor marijuana operation that nearly mimicked the first home in South Dos Palos.
At that home, Pacific Gas & Electric responded and found the people running the operation had cut power from the residence to a nearby power pole, and a converted transformer on the pole had caught fire. So much power was pulled from the residence that the infrastructure was overloaded and damaged, Framstad said.
The indoor operations were well beyond what the county allows medical marijuana patients to grow. Merced County staff are working to write a new ordinance that would ban outdoor cultivation (currently OK under the county's ordinance) and allow people to grow six plants indoors.
If residents stick to the six plant limit, there should be no need to steal power or bring in the type of expensive equipment used for commercial operations, Framstad said. And, the six plants should provide enough marijuana for personal use. County staff is working on folding into the new ordinance ways to allow medical marijuana patients to access their medicine, through possibilities such as mobile dispensaries or delivery services.
Moving marijuana exclusively indoors will discourage the type of crime associated with outdoor operations, sheriff's officials say.
Deputies are battling the harvest season for outdoor cultivation and continue disbanding anywhere from 15-20 outdoor operations each week.
It takes longer to investigate and bring down the types of operations found on Tuesday in Dos Palos, Framstad said.
Deputies are continuing to investigate the two indoor operations and others on the Westside of Merced County, which they believe could be linked to criminal organizations.